Sunday, August 27, 2006
On Tuesday, we visited Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut that was all but reduced to rubble during the Israeli bombing campaign. The Israeli Defense Forces claimed to target Dahieh because it is the home of Hezbollah’s headquarters. Many homes were destroyed, people other than Hezbollah fighters were killed from Israeli bombs, and many of them were children. The neighborhood is home to many Shia, who are supporters of Hezbollah. Because Dahieh is just on the outskirts of Beirut, citizens from the city watched in terror as F16 fighters bombed the neighborhood to pieces. Because of Israel’s brutality and Hezbollah’s steadfastness, many other sects of the population became sympathizers, which one would think wasn’t Israel’s original intention.
We arrived and saw many red hats on the heads of Hezbollah aid workers who are working to help with cleanup efforts. Volunteer architects have been coming to Dahieh to survey the destruction and aid in rebuilding. The destruction is incredible. Piles of dusty broken concrete lie where six story buildings once stood. On the top of the rubble, carefully placed propaganda banners have the slogan ”Made In USA: Official Trademark” and other banners with “Extremely Accurate Targets” written on them. Bulldozers dig though the mess, pick up pieces of rubble, and place it into the back of trash trucks. Other volunteers and families try to salvage items from the destruction.
We walked toward a tent where a press conference about the reconstruction is happening. I moved toward the front and grabed a spot before the mainstream press could take all of the spots. A Reuters reporter complemented me on my camera and then put a piece of gaffer’s tape over the made in the USA engravings on my lens.
“Trust me, you don’t want to have to explain yourself all day here. People are upset,” he said with some concern.
“Considering the circumstances, I understand, “ I replied.
The conference started. The first speaker is in charge of the architects working on reconstruction. He spent the first few minutes congratulating Nasrallah on his victory and then described the wreckage. He condemned Israel for the large civilian death toll. After a few minutes, people clapped and reporters grabbed people to interview. I moved out of the tent and noticed all of the red Hezbollah hats milling about the wreckage.
After the end of the Israeli offensive, Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah claimed victory over Israel and followed by saying, "completing the victory can be done with reconstruction, particularly the houses," he said. "Everyone must enter the battle to rebuild." Hezbollah's volunteers were evident within the suburb.
In a volunteer tent in the bombed-out neighborhood, where almost daily press conferences were held during the week, Dr. Bilal Naim was busy in conversation with journalists and architects who came to survey the damage. Bilal Naim is a Hezbollah member co-ordinating the clean-up in Dahaih and other southern suburbs. We explained to him that we were journalists working on a story about the cleanup and he agreed to do a short interview.
Dr. Naim went straight into the estimated amount of destruction. “Here, there were more than 300 buildings totally destroyed and more than 600 buildings seriously damaged. In addition, there are about 12,000 damaged residential homes.”
I asked him how much total destruction was estimated in Dahiah and he replied, “I don’t think that amount has been settled yet. For Dahiah alone, we estimate that there is over one billion dollars of damage. The doesn’t take into account the south or Bekaa, with all of the damage to agriculture, the environment, human health, and economic damage caused by the destruction of factories. I think the amount exceeds 3.7 billion dollars.”
Bilal spoke of Hezbollah’s role in reconstruction. “Hezbollah is helping in the reconstruction. Hezbollah is helping people buy new furniture and providing rent for one year until it is safe to truly rebuild.” Dr. Bilal, like many Lebanese citizens, is skeptical that the ceasefire will last longterm.
Hezbollah is moving quickly to aid the citizens of Dahieh. They have worked quickly to help with the reconstruction efforts. In addition to physically helping families, they have been handing out huge sums of money. Over 30,000 housing units were destroyed throughout Lebanon during the 34-day Israeli offensive. Families that lost homes during the war are being given between 10,000 to 12,000 dollars by Hezbollah. At a small school in Dahieh, people have lined up to receive wads of US hundred dollar bills.
When asked about the source of money, Hezbollah official Ghassan Darwish told the Daily Star that many supporters donate a portion of their money each month to Hezbollah and also admitted that Iran helps Hezbollah on some occasions. Some analysts have criticized Hezbollah at trying to overstep the Lebanese government, but neither the state or the UN has been unable to act as fast. Wherever the funds came from or whatever the intentions of the reconstruction are, Hezbollah has won the support of this destroyed neighborhood.
Video Coming Soon...
Interview From South Lebanon
Footage of Bint Jbeil Destruction
After the funeral, we stopped to photograph and shoot video of three large pictures of what appeared to be resistance fighters. An old man grabbed our attention and asked if we wanted to document his tattered home. We accepted his offer and entered his modest home. Children glanced and laughed at us as we walked to the back of his home. The old man’s donkey gave me a paranoid stare. I felt strange being an American in the circumstances. His house had been destroyed with the support of US tax dollars.
The old man began telling his story. “I am a Lebanese citizen from Jebbail village and I spent 21 days under the bombs with no food, no water, nothing. Israel gave us 48 hours to leave the village. Under gunfire, we went carrying our things to tractors,” he said with passion.
The old man explained that his home was shot up after he left town. He told us how several members of his family, including his brother, were killed in the fighting.
He explained his experience being displaced during the fighting. “We went to a village with no food, no water, no underground shelter, and no house to live in. We stayed in the fields. Now look at what I returned to see,” he exclaimed pointing to his shelled up living room. He continued, “We stayed in forests, in destroyed buildings, anywhere, because there weren’t enough houses left for all the Lebanese refugees.”
He talked of the history of wars with Israel. “We are the people that Israel has been in war with for many years.”
He elaborated on other villages that received damage from the war. “Here… you can see for yourself here if you go to Harfa, Yareen, Marwaheen, not only our village, all the land here was destroyed. They are still burying the people, including children. People’s remains are still under buildings from the 34 days of war.”
As we were leaving, another man grabbed us and asked if we would visit his house. He claimed to have unexploded bombs in his front yard. We went and saw that his home was completely destroyed with the exception of rubble and remnants of furniture. The man spoke to us clearly about his situation. He was made homeless by the destruction.
He began to tell his story. “During the war, after 20 days, Israel warned us to abandon the villages or be held responsible. We left. I was surprised to return and see my house destroyed. I don’t belong to any group or political party. My guilt is to be a Shia and Lebanese citizen at the same time. They wanted to take revenge. I found the house mined with more than 10 mines and the house destroyed. There are still unexploded mines that I can show you…” He showed us two round flat metal objects that looked like land mines. He offered to move them back to the original location for our cameras. We declined out of fear for our and his safety. We had already read the story of two children who were mutilated by cluster bombs and had no interest in becoming the next news story.
We drove along the Israeli border. We got so close that some villagers stopped us to tell us that we were headed toward the border. We turned around and kept going toward Bint Jbeil. We saw a dead cow that had been shot. We looked across the valley and saw Israeli Armed Personnel Carriers and trucks patrolling on the Israeli side. There were houses dotted throughout the landscape on the other side. These were the neighbors of the villagers whose homes were destroyed. A little over a week ago, some of those soldiers may had been on this side fighting a brutal ground war as fighter jets flew ahead bombing the way to the Litani River.
We continued on to Bint Jbeil. It was leveled. You could almost count the number of standing buildings on your right hand. This village had housed over thirty thousand people. We walked through the rubble and documented all that we could. It was pure horror to think that people lived here and they would return to see this. There is no way that all of the bodies had been accounted for. The stench of death was in the air.
A man approached Rema and me. He had something to say. He talked of Nasrallah and the “divine victory”. “We are from the liberation town, not just Bint Jbeil. We are from the capital of resistance. This is a Zionist crime. See what they did!” He pointed out to the landscape of rubble. “May God protect the leader of resistance, our leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and may God protect the resistance guys!”
It was too much to digest. Everything was destroyed. Businesses, homes, schools, cars; everything was burnt out, or rubble. I tried to envision the city before the destruction. Now there was nothing. It looked like a post-apocalyptic Wild West ghost town. It was all dust, rubble, and the foul stench of death.
We decided to move on to a small hospital in Bint Jbeil. A doctor showed us where a bomb had pierced the roof of the hospital. We walked to the back and saw where another missile had targeted the emergency generator. It had knocked the power out for the hospital in the midst of a time when the hospital was most needed. We visited a lady who was wounded after returning to her home. There have been several injuries that have occurred when people have climbed around in rubble.
We left the village and decided to make one final stop in a small village where a man was living with a two-ton bomb. The bomb had been dropped and went into his living room, piercing the wall of his kitchen and into his bathroom. He and his family were in the living when this happened. Luckily for them, the bomb didn’t explode. Now, journalists and activists visited his home to see the bomb. In all honesty, it probably was not the safest place to visit. I mean there was a big unexploded bomb in this man’s house.
We got lost in the winding mountainous roads. We stopped and asked villagers and Lebanese soldiers for directions. Everyone was friendly and at least one group of women invited us in for dinner. If anyone has ever spent time in the Middle East, then they know of the incredible hospitality and generosity that people exhibit. It is a quite overwhelming in fact. One has to constantly refuse offers of dinner or coffee and tea. People would share their last meal with you. The news never shows one that side. It is just angry demonstrators or destroyed buildings. One would think that that this entire area of the world was nothing but dust, rubble, and angry demonstrators burning flags and cursing Israel. There are certainly are manifestations against imperialisms, but one only needs to study a modicum of the history to know why people are upset. The Western powers have spent decades attempting to divide up the region.
We arrived in the village and asked around about the bomb. We came to a small road and asked one final family. A young boy came and offered to show us the way. We arrived to learn that the bomb had been removed. We would not get to capture the bomb, but we were relieved that another family would not die from an unexploded ordinance. The man invited us into his home to see where the missile had landed. It must have been massive. There was a huge hole in the side of his living room with holes decreasing in size through two other rooms. You could see the shape of the missile.
The man was confused over why Israel would send a large missile into his house. He appeared to be a middle or upper middle class man with no connection to Hezbollah. It was not too surprising after our trip through the south. It seemed that everyone there was a target.
We asked him about the ceasefire. The man replied, “I think that this ceasefire will be for a short time. It will not last. There is no peace with Israel here. We are caught up in the middle of politics and are very small compared to these politics.”
After spending some time with man who had lived with the missile, we decide to make out way back to Tyre. Just about every village along the way had been damaged significantly. We made bad jokes to lighten out mood. It was surprising to see a village still intact, rather than one blown apart by bombs or shredded with machine gun fire.
In Tyre, we grabbed dinner with a group of international leftist reporters. We shared stories. The other group of journalists were working on a story on the unexploded ordinances throughout Lebanon. There were lots of morbid jokes. Most people would not appreciate the war humor. It is something that develops in harsh situations. People laugh at jokes about what they know. In war and post-war situations, you know death and destruction. A Lebanese fixer for the BBC told horrible jokes. He had worked in the south during the height of the bombings. I would never repeat any of them.
The conversation would be light, but then get heavy again. The fixer told us about his play. We looked at him with some surprise, not guessing him a play writer. The light mood became serious and sad again. He wanted to write a play about two people that lived with two dead bodies for eleven days. He figured this would be full of morbid humor. It would be an existential piece. The end would be tragic sense the two characters lost their minds. We all took long hard sips of our Almaza beers and decided it was time to return to Beirut.
The road from Tyre to Beirut was treacherous. Right outside of Tyre there was a detour down a dark, dusty dirt road. Banana trees lined the road. It was creepy and the fact that we had worked for 16 hours straight on just a few hours sleep left us in a state similar to the last few hours of an acid trip. Paranoia and delusion permeated our minds. We got lost trying to find our way across the Litani River. We drove slowly through an old, beaten graveyard.
“Old graveyards at night send chills up my spine. Even in a war zone, graveyards give me the creeps,” Andrew said.
A mangy dog ran in front of our car startling us. We jumped and then laughed about our uneasiness. After the graveyard, we ran into a checkpoint from the Lebanese Army.
“Which way to Beirut,” Rema asked a young Lebanese soldier. The soldier pointed to the north and we continued driving. The Lebanese Army has been a toothless tiger in this war. Their rusty old tanks and assorted machine guns are not weapons for the kind of war that happened in Lebanon. No matter how much Israel bombed, they would have to set and wait to clean up the wreckage following the massacre.
The main road was littered with holes of various sizes that were a result of the 34-day bombing campaign. I would start to drift to sleep and then awakened suddenly as Andrew slammed his foot on the break to avoid driving into a hole in a bridge or to make a sudden detour. Driving from South Lebanon to Beirut was scary at night. Everyday there were changes, as the military would draw up new routes for travelers to avoid obstacles in the road. I’m sure that there were many accidents during and after the war.
After driving for three hours, we arrived back in Beirut. The trip would have taken 45 minutes to an hour before the war. We were exhausted. Andrew and I said goodbye to Rema, grabbed a final cold beer and went to sleep in the quaint, little hostel that we were calling home.
Interview From South Lebanon
Friday, August 25, 2006
On Sunday morning, we grabbed coffees and traditional Lebanese breakfast sandwiches called Knefes, and headed to South Lebanon. The highway to the south was lined with huge billboards with images of guerillas with anti-tank missiles and the words “Divine Victory” written on them, other signs with wounded children with the slogan “Made in the USA” written in large letters, and multiple others highlighting last month’s struggle between Hezbollah guerilla fighters and the Israeli Defense Forces.
Much of the road had sustained damage from the bombings. Almost every bridge was ripped to shreds with wires hanging out of them from the huge bombs that had been dropped on them by Israeli fighter jets. There were various detours along the way as some areas on the highway were impassable. We drove cautiously and occasionally came to stops where cars would slowly creep through bomb craters in the center of the roads. The road was far from safe to travel on.
Photojournalist Andrew Stern, a Lebanese photographer and translator named Rema, and myself made jokes and listened to music to lighten the mood. It was going to be a long day. Our plan was to cross the Litani River and travel through various villages throughout the south, document the destruction caused by the war, and interview families about living during the war.
In Jiye, just south of Beirut, we saw the oil refinery that had been bombarded by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which has left a major environmental disaster in Lebanon. We pulled over to take pictures and shoot interviews with employees of the refinery. Part of the wreckage was still smoking, even though the bombing had happened weeks ago. Oil covered the small palm trees and grass surrounding the destroyed oil tanks. It will take lots of money and time to fix the situation caused by the destruction.
In Sidon, huge billboards with pictures of Nasrallah were hanging from buildings. Cars everywhere were decorated with yellow Hezbollah flags and pictures of Nasrallah. Much of the area south of Beirut was hit hard by the conflict. The brutal invasion of Israel has heightened the popularity of Hezbollah to over 80% nationwide. Most of the Western media has linked the war to Hezbollah capturing two Israeli soldiers. Most people that we spoke with in Lebanon have linked the conflict with what is seen as a history of imperialism from the United States and Israel.
We crossed the Litani River and proceeded into Tyre. There is a large gateway into Tyre that has yellow Hezbollah flags and a huge mural of Hassan Nasrallah, the city’s hero. We ran into a caravan of cars with Hezbollah flags slowing traffic to a stop. We stopped to see what was happening. It was a funeral procession headed to the small village of Chamaa. It was to bury three Hezbollah fighters and a two-year-old girl. We asked if we could follow the procession and document the ceremony. We were given permission from one of the fighter's brothers, but cautioned that Israeli soldiers were in the area surrounding the burial grounds.
We lost the procession and got stopped at a military checkpoint run by the Lebanese Army. The checkpoint had a sign stating that foreigners would have to receive a permit at the office in Tyre. With some haggling, we got though and attempted to catch the caravan. We got lost and wondered past several obliterated houses. A television crew was busy interviewing a family who had lost their home. There are still some independent journalists around, but most of the major networks are starting to pull out as the world moves on to other stories.
Eventually, we found our way back to the funeral procession. Cars with yellow flags lined the war-beaten dirt road. We walked up to the burial ground and saw scores of weeping mourners. They were overcome with grief. Women screamed in pain. Men lined the corners of the brick-lined ditches for the dead. Lynn Saif El Din, the two year child, died while seeking refuge from their destroyed villages in a fire station in the southern city of Tyre. Ali Deep Srour, Haida Darwich, Moussa and Hussein Jaber, the three dead Hezbollah fighters, were heroes to the villagers. One of the fighters, a twenty-three year old, was to have been married on the day of his funeral. It was hard not to be penetrated and moved by the sadness.
After prayers, men carried the three coffins with Hezbollah flags and the small coffin with a green flag toward their final resting places. The Imam said another prayer after a relative of the dead little girl, overcome with grief, was dragged off of her small coffin. The coffins were carried toward the burial chambers. The bodies were removed from the coffins and placed into the tombs. People were hysterically weeping. It was incredibly hard to bear. The bodies were weeks old and the stench of death filled the air. Rotting human flesh has a distinct smell that is unforgettable. While capturing the ceremony on video, I felt like I was part of the ceremony and not a reporter documenting the event. I looked at Rema and saw the sadness in her face. Andrew worked hard to capture the emotion of the event and you could see that he was equally touched.
Some mourners were aggravated by the constant clicking of cameras and the video cameras lurking in the crowd. We were there with a couple of other journalists including a famous war photographer from the New York Times. I wondered whether they had been hardened by war or if this was something that they were also digesting in the same way.
Before leaving, I interviewed the brother of one of the fallen Hezbollah fighters. I hugged him and felt my credibility as an objective journalist slipping away.
To Be Continued…
Watch Funeral Video
Saturday, August 19, 2006
August 19, 2006
We left early Friday morning from Damascus with most of our luggage still missing. We were missing many of the supplies that we brought for our media work, along with supplies for local NGOs and the Lebanese Red Cross. Air France is still working on locating several boxes that include mini-DV cameras, communication devices, audio equipment, mini-DV cassettes, and some our personal items. We decided it was best to continue into Beirut, after two days in Damascus waiting.
We had little trouble crossing the border into Syria into Lebanon. Near the border, we saw bomb craters in the road slowing travel for refugees returning to their homes. A small bridge had been taken out and a passenger car sat crumpled up within a large bomb crater. We noticed an annihilated glass factory destroyed by bombing raid. We continued driving and noticed that one of the largest bridges in Lebanon had a large part of it destroyed by a bomb from an Israeli fighter jet. We pulled over and our driver explained how it would take over a year to repair the damage. It is hard to understand how this would hurt Hezbollah and seems that this was an attempt to create infrastructural damage that would affect all the people of Lebanon.
When we entered into southern Beirut, the roads were busy with people returning home. Several buildings had sustained significant damage. People appeared to be trying to return to normal following the aggressive Israeli offensive against Lebanon.
We arrived early at a convent housing the facilities of the Beirut-based media and arts NGO, A Step Away. People are very friendly to me and Alex. We spend most of the rest of the day visiting with locals and journalists who have been here throughout the conflict. We listened to the horror stories from the war as we are shown around Beirut. Everyone was hospitable and offered us food, tea, and coffee (with no milk, due to the Israeli bombing of a milk factory; an obvious Hezbollah stronghold).
At night, a group of independent media journalists and myself went out for food and drinks. Andrew Stern (www.digitalrailroad.net/astern) had just gotten back from a mass funeral in the southern city of Qana. His description and pictures are heartbreaking and show the true face of the war. His face shows obvious pain. It is hard to imagine how the families must have felt.
Right now, there is a fragile ceasefire under place in Lebanon. People are trying to get back to normal, but the future is uncertain. Hezbollah are the winners of the conflict, but there have been huge costs. Israel seems somewhat hesitant to honor the ceasefire. We awoke today and learned that Israel conducted a raid at the village of Bodai, in the Bekaa Valley, in Eastern Lebanon. The Israeli Defense Forces claim it was to prevent arms coming in from Syria and Iran. Hezbollah reported that they foiled the raid and pushed the soldiers out. One Israeli soldier is reported to have been killed and two others were wounded. The Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora accused Israel of violating the UN-brokered ceasefire (Resolution 1701). The end of the conflict is still to be seen.
Tomorrow, myself and a group of independent journalists will travel to South Lebanon to visit Bent Jbeyl and other areas which have sustained some of the worst damage of the conflict. We hope to interview families there and shed light on their side of the conflict.
From Beirut With Love,
W. Brandon Jourdan
Thursday, August 17, 2006
So, me and Alex Khalil, my fixer/friend, loaded up tons of equipment for the Lebanese Red Cross and supplies for an independent media collective in Lebanon and headed to Damascus Thanks to Harry H., Vlad, and Times Up Emily for helping us.
Security was no problem and the flight went great. We had a layover in Paris, which was pretty nice. We left the airport and had breakfast in St. Michelle. We rushed back to the airport and headed to Damascus. Upon arrival in Damascus, we realized that we were missing 5 or our 6 pieces of luggage. This was bothersome, considering the value of the luggage. A wonderful friend gave us a nice place to sleep and a wonderful breakfast in Damascus.
Syria is very nice and the people have been very generous. Hezbollah are considered without any debate the winners of the fight between Israel and Hezbollah. Nasrallah is considered a national hero here. His picture is posted on the back of cars like some people have bumber stickers in the United States. Hezbollah are considered freedom fighters against Israel and the United States. The yellow Hezbollah flags hang are present throughout the city of Damascus. People are not big fans of the Israeli or US governments and lets be honest, why should they be. They do consider the government different from the people of both countries, which is refreshing. I have felt very welcomed and safe here. It has been quite enjoyable, despite the problems with Air France/Middle East Airways.
Hopefully, we will get our luggage today and cross into Lebanon tonight. I'll post updates when I can. You can also check out my website http://www.wbjourdan.com and http://www.wbjourdan.blogspot.com.
From Syria With Love,